Tag Archives: Status Quo

The Last Night Of The Electrics

Rick Parfitt

When I addressed the last – to date – studio album by legendary rock band Status Quo, 2016’s “Aquostic II – That’s A Fact!” and, more recently, shared my thoughts on the passing of the late, great Rick Parfitt, I noted that I wasn’t sure where the band would go in the wake of the band’s decision to go unplugged in future and after Parfitt’s decision last year to depart the band.

Well, here is perhaps the first indication. “The Last Night Of The Electrics” is a live album from the group, recorded at the O2 Arena in London last December – almost two months subsequent to Parfitt leaving the band but prior to his death. It’s been billed as an “emotionally charged set” though I’m not sure why that would be true of this particular gig? One could perhaps speculate that it’s a subtle way of pulling at the emotions around Parfitt’s passing, or is that just the cynic in me?

Status Quo – Live!

Regardless, this album is only the seventh live album, by my reckoning, in the band’s long history. 1977’s double “Live!” will for many be forever the benchmark by which any Quo live release should be judged. It’s certainly head and shoulders above the average “Live Alive Quo” (1992) and the more recent “Aquostic! Live At The Roundhouse” but for my money “Live At The N.E.C.” (1982) is also a cracking show – particularly if you can find the whole radio-transmitted performance rather than the edited LP. I guess, ultimately, the relative scarcity of Quo live releases is at least in part indicative of the static nature of the huge majority of their setlists over the years. Sound-wise, “The Last Night Of The Electrics” isn’t bad, but isn’t great either. The sound is a bit muddy to my ears and there are definite issues as a result of Parfitt’s absence.

Richie Malone

The set kicks of, as is the norm, with “Caroline” and it must be said that young guitarist Richie Malone does a creditable job on pulling off Parfitt’s tremendous rhythm parts. The hole left by Parfitt becomes much more obvious when his lead and co-lead vocal parts need covering. Parfitt himself struggled vocally at times in recent years during live show, but here bassist John “Rhino” Edwards takes some of these parts and, I’m afraid, doesn’t really do the job justice.

Francis Rossi, Richie Malone & John “Rhino” Edwards

Hearing songs like “Caroline” or “Something ‘Bout You Baby I Like” with Edwards singing with Francis Rossi, or even keyboardist Andrew Bown filling in for Parfitt on “Whatever You Want” or “The Wanderer”, when you’ve had decades of hearing the brilliant combination of Rossi and Parfitt – well it’s not quite like listening to a tribute band but it feels odd nonetheless. Sadly, it’s worse when Edwards takes lead on “Rain” and “Creepin’ Up On You”…

Andrew Bown & John “Rhino” Edwards

For some reason all of Rossi’s between song banter has been removed from the recording. Time limitations? A set lasting less than 95 minutes on a double CD (space for 140+ minutes) suggests not. Reviews of the show in question report that no mention was made of the missing rhythm guitarist so maybe that has something to do with it, I don’t know. On that front, though, Rossi changing the long-standing “…can’t escape this Ricky in my ears…” in “Burning Bridges” to instead sing “…can’t escape this paddy in my ears…” (Malone is Irish) seems a bit insensitive, I would have thought it would have been better to return to the song’s original “ringing” lyric.

Leon Cave

Rossi himself struggles vocally at times throughout this show, but guitar-wise is as on-the-money as you would expect. Elsewhere, drummer Leon Cave is solid but unremarkable and his drum solo would have been better cut out along with Rossi’s banter, to be honest. Of the set, you know what you’re going to get but even the “Heavy Traffic” songs have been played to death in the same order for years now, and “Gerdundula”, always a favourite of mine, now seems over-extended and is sounding tired.

Since the album was recorded and scheduled for release the band have announced that the “Last Night…” tour – supposed to be their final electric tour would now not be, with 2017’s winter tour, previously branded as “Aquostic Live – It Rocks!” (and, let’s be honest, as entertaining as the acoustic stuff is, it most definitely does not rock) will now be an electric affair under the title “Plugged In – Live And Rockin'”. With the “blame” for the turn to acoustic shows now being laid at Parfitt’s door – health issues apparently, though the man himself said he wasn’t interested in doing the acoustic thing – does this mean that future tours, if there are to be any, will also be electric?

Status Quo

This probably all sounds very negative, and I really don’t mean to be. I love Quo, and have done for many years, but this one doesn’t really excite me I’m afraid. I think that if the band are to continue without losing too many supporters then the new line-up needs to get into a recording studio and come up with a new album to promote and need to change the setlist to remove the songs that relied heavily on Parfitt’s voice – they have more than enough hits and album tracks to replace them with…

“The Last Night Of The Electrics” tracklist:

1. Caroline / 2. The Wanderer / 3. Something ‘Bout You Baby I Like / 4. Rain / 5. Softer Ride / 6. Beginning Of The End / 7. Hold You Back / 8. Medley : a. What You’re Proposin’ / b. Down The Dustpipe / c. Wild Side Of Life / d. Railroad / e. Again And Again / 9. The Oriental / 10. Creepin’ Up On You / 11. Gerdundula / 12. In The Army Now / 13. The Caveman (Drum Solo) / 14. Roll Over Lay Down / 15. Down Down / 16. Whatever You Want / 17. Rocking All Over The World / 18. Burning Bridges / 19. Rock ‘N’ Roll Music / Bye Bye Johnny

1, 5 and 14 originally from “Hello!” (1973) / 2 originally a single release (1984) / 3 originally from “Never Too Late” (1981) / 4 originally from “Blue For You” (1976) / 6 originally from “In Search Of The Fourth Chord”(2007) / 7 and 17 originally from “Rockin’ All Over The World” (1977) / 8a originally from “Just Supposin’” (1980) / 8b originally a single release (1970) / 8c originally a single release (1976) / 8d originally from “Dog Of Two Head” (1971) / 8e originally from “If You Can’t Stand The Heat…” (1978) / 9 and 10 originally from “Heavy Traffic” (2002) / 15 and 19b originally from “On The Level” (1975) / 16 originally from “Whatever You Want” (1979) / 18 originally from “Ain’t Complaining” (1988) / 19a cover of Chuck Berry single (1957)

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Rick Parfitt 1948 – 2016

rick_parfitt_of_status_quo_forced_to_abandon_european_tour_music_scene_irelandA week ago today I was enjoying a Christmas Eve meal with the in-laws when the awful news came through – Status Quo man Rick Parfitt had died. More than any high-profile musician to pass away in the previous twelve months – whether it be Lemmy, David Bowie, Prince, etc. etc. this one affected me.

Francis Rossi & Rick Parfitt On Stage In 2015
Francis Rossi & Rick Parfitt On Stage In 2015

I knew I was going to have to make some comment on his passing – but what to say to begin to do the justice to man and his contribution to music? There were some lovely words on various news sites etc. following Rick’s death but he was quickly replaced there when George Michael passed away the very next day.

Rick Parfitt
Rick Parfitt

No disrespect to George Michael, who was a great singer, but for me the amount of coverage that he was given vs. Rick seemed to suggest that he was by far the more significant and iconic figure. And maybe to many he was, whilst perhaps it was also reflective of how often Quo have been derided in the press as three chord wonders etc.

Anyway, I suspect that my family may have grown a little tired of the sound of Quo blasting from my speakers over the past week as I’ve paid tribute to Rick and the boys through the stereo and reacquainted myself with much of their music that had slipped from the kind of regular rotation that it used to enjoy.

Status Quo Live In 1981
Status Quo Live In 1981

Quo were my first love as a band, way back in 1981, and have been right up there ever since. Having received the brand new “Never Too Late” album as an Easter present that year, I obtained their entire album back catalogue as quickly as I was able to and have followed the band through all the highs and lows ever since.

Status Quo Live In 1984
Status Quo Live In 1984

In the summer of 1984 I went to see the band live for the first time on their “End Of The Road” tour. At the time I thought it would be my one and only opportunity to witness them play, as the tour was billed as a farewell to the road. And contrary to the jibes aimed at the band, until this year’s “Last Night Of The Electrics” final electric tour before a switch to acoustic touring, that has been their one and only “farewell” tour!. Luckily for me, and many thousands of others, a re-grouping in 1986 meant the return of the band on record and on stage.

Rick Parfitt On Stage In 2007
Rick Parfitt On Stage In 2007

Since then I’ve enjoyed a further fourteen Quo shows, including my wife’s first ever rock concert on the “In Search Of The Fourth Chord” tour. Nothing compared to a great many regular gig goers I’m sure, and I have to confess that my enthusiasm waned at times for their concerts as the set list remained pretty static for long periods of time. Nonetheless, every single show that I went to was well worth the time and money as the band never failed to give anything but a top-class performance.

Roy Lynes, Alan Lancaster, John Coghlan, Rick Parfitt & Francis Rossi In Late 1960s
Roy Lynes, Alan Lancaster, John Coghlan, Rick Parfitt & Francis Rossi In Late 1960s

Having been an ever-present since joining in the late 60s, it was with great sadness that I learnt of Rick’s decision not to return to the band following his latest heart attack this summer. I could completely understand that though, given the need to protect his health and also his desire that if he was going to make further music it needed to “rock” – which sadly the band’s recent studio output and future touring plans do not accommodate.

Francis Rossi On Stage
Francis Rossi On Stage

Francis Rossi has been on the receiving end of an awful lot of stick from so-called Quo fans who seem to take great delight in slagging off everything that the band have done since the “frantic four” ceased to be in 1982. Whilst I realise that Francis has been for a long time the leader of the band I think that this abuse is very unfair. There is an argument that if he’s had his way then Quo would have been doing acoustic and country-style music for decades and that he resented playing the old hits all the time. There may be some truth to this. Certainly he is more inclined to go down the acoustic and lighter Quo route than Rick was, and many a musician who’s been performing for a long time is surely going to tire of some of the material that really has to be played to satisfy both the hardcore and casual concert goer?

Francis Rossi & Rick Parfitt
Francis Rossi & Rick Parfitt

What is beyond doubt to me, though, is that Francis and Rick have been the public face of Quo for many years now. With Rick gone many have called the band the Francis Rossi Band or Francis Rossi’s Quo.

The Frantic Four
The Frantic Four – John Coghlan, Rick Parfitt, Alan Lancaster & Francis Rossi

Let’s look at the facts. Whilst Rossi, Parfitt, Lancaster and Coghlan were all band members between 1967 and 1981, the “frantic four” itself only lasted from 1970 (following the departure of keyboardist Roy Lynes) to late 1976 (when Andrew Bown became an official member). So, depending on your point of view either fifteen or just seven years. Plus a handful of reunion gigs in 2013 and 2014 of course. In that time they produced eleven (or six!) studio albums.

Rick Parfitt, Francis Rossi & John "Rhino" Edwards On Stage In 1988
Rick Parfitt, Francis Rossi & John “Rhino” Edwards On Stage In 1988

John “Rhino” Edwards has been playing bass for Quo since 1986. By my reckoning – and leaving drummers aside as there have now been four since Coghlan left – that means the core of Rossi, Parfitt, Bown and Edwards were together for thirty years, at least double that of the fabled “frantic four”, and produced sixteen studio albums. Surely, then, those band members have every right to keep calling themselves Status Quo – even after Rick’s departure and death?

Status Quo Backstage In 1991
Status Quo Backstage In 1991

Yes, the bulk of the live set is still taken from the pre-1982 albums but, again, isn’t that the curse of so many “heritage” acts who are compelled to play the old stuff live in preference over their newer material? Bottom line, for me, is that “Quo-light” is as essential overall as the “classic” band and that, frankly, we should be grateful to Francis, Rick and co. for all the great music and performances that they’ve given us since 1986.

Andrew Bown & Richie Malone On Stage In 2016
Andrew Bown & Richie Malone On Stage In 2016

Following his enforced retirement from the band, Richie Malone has come in as stand-in for Rick on the band’s recent tour dates and done a great job by most accounts. However, at this point, who knows what – if any – future the band has?

Rick Parfitt - Bad Hair Day!
Rick Parfitt – Bad Hair Day!

I digress. Back to the late Mr. Parfitt. When I was young it was Rick who I aspired to be. Sure sometimes I had to pretend to be Francis (with my shirt collar turned under to imitate his grandad shirt!) so that I could sing the lead vocals while miming away to the records, but it was Rick, the golden-maned rock god (let’s ignore some of the naff haircuts he had occasionally!), for the heads down riffing and some of the best songs too.

Rick Parfitt In 1978
Rick Parfitt In 1978

Over the years Rick composed many of the great Quo classics. Not often as sole writer (this applies equally to Francis) but his early co-writes with Francis, then with Alan Lancaster and later with Andrew Bown, John “Rhino” Edwards and recently Wayne Morris have produced some of the best songs on each of the band’s albums – the sole exception being 1994’s “Thirsty Work” which is also the least Quo-sounding album, which is surely no random coincidence.

Rick Parfitt On Stage
Rick Parfitt On Stage

I could list all his writing credits, but if you’re really interested head over to From The Makers Of… which has a comprehensive list. Selected highlights, however, include the following: “Forty Five Hundred Times”, “Rain”, “Don’t Drive My Car” and “Mystery Song” would all easily be in my all-time Quo top ten songs and the likes of “Softer Ride”, “Belavista Man”, “Mystery Song”, “Little Lady” and “The Power Of Rock” wouldn’t be far behind. Many of Rick’s songs feature his distinctive lead vocals too.

Rick Parfitt & Francis Rossi In 1970s
Rick Parfitt & Francis Rossi In 1970s

On record, then, Rick had an invaluable input into the band’s superb legacy. Onstage, is there any better sound than all those instantly recognisable riffs being hammered out on his battered white Telecaster, or the perfection of Rick and Francis as they lock into the groove? Yes, age and health issues took their toll on his singing voice but he was still superb when I last saw the band at Lechlade last year.

There was talk of an autobiography and solo album for 2017. Neither will presumably see the light as they surely can’t have had much work done to them. There was a solo record named “Recorded Delivery” cut around 1985 so hopefully that my now finally get an official release.

Lyndsay Whitburn & Rick Parfitt
Rick Parfitt With Third Wife Lyndsay Whitburn

Rick may have had faults as a human being – too much indulgence in drink and drugs through the years and something of a weakness for the ladies perhaps – but whenever I saw him perform or appear on TV etc. there was a down to earth natural humour that shone though and he was the perfect foil to Francis.

Whatever happens now with Status Quo – and I hope the band do carry on (though I’d still rather they plugged back in and rock a bit!) – things can never quite be the same without Rick.  We’re moving house in a week, and I really should be packing stuff, so I’d better get on… Despite my best efforts, I don’t think I’ve come close to doing Rick justice. Suffice it to say he was a huge inspiration to me and many others, and is simply a massive loss. Rest in peace…

Rick Parfitt 1948 - 2016
Rick Parfitt 1948 – 2016

Aquostic II – That’s A Fact!

status-quo-aquostic-ii-thats-a-fact

Status Quo - Aquostic... Stripped Bare
Status Quo – Aquostic… Stripped Bare

Following on from 2014’s “Aquostic… Stripped Bare” album, British rock legends Status Quo have now unleashed their follow-up record, “Aquostic 2 – That’s A Fact!”.

Whereas the first instalment contained 25 back catalogue tracks re-worked as acoustic versions, this record features a further 16 re-workings alongside 3 brand new songs.

Rick Parfitt & Francis Rossi
Rick Parfitt & Francis Rossi

As before, the arrangements are not simply Quo stripped back to acoustic guitars – as many would have preferred – but feature a variety of additional musicians with instruments including strings, accordion, percussion etc. added. Although I enjoyed that approach first time out I must admit that at times the extra instrumentation feels intrusive and unnecessary to my ears with “Aquostic 2”.

Status Quo Live At The Union Chapel 2016
Status Quo Live At The Union Chapel 2016

I mentioned with the first record that 22 of the 25 tracks were from 1968-1983 and just 3 from 1986-1991 and nothing from anything originally recorded since then. So what do we have on volume two? Well again the bulk comes from the earlier “Frantic Four” phase of the band’s career, with 10 from 1968-1983, 6 from the period 1986-2005 and the 3 new tracks.

Francis Rossi
Francis Rossi

Over the two volumes, therefore, all original studio albums (ignoring the 3 covers albums and the “Bula Quo” soundtrack album) are represented by at least one re-working with the exception of “Spare Parts” (1969), “Ma Kelly’s Greasy Spoon” (1970), “Under The Influence” (1999), “In Search Of The Fourth Chord” (2007), and “Quid Pro Quo” (2011). It might, perhaps, have been nice to dump a few of the obvious choices and included material from these five records – particularly the latter three which all contain great songs.

crmrootw8aakmyiAnyway, I digress. To the album itself… some of the tracks work very well indeed – the single “That’s A Fact”, “In The Army Now” are amongst those with fairly minor tweaking from the original arrangements. A number of very similar to their electric versions – such as “Jam Side Down”, “Living On An Island” and “Lies” – but there are a few that are really quite different to the versions that my ears are used to hearing. Of those, “Roll Over Lay Down” is pretty good, but I am not overly keen on “Lover Of The Human Race” even though I did like the original (on one of the band’s possibly least-loved records) and I don’t like what they’ve done to the 1982 hit “Dear John” at all.

Rick Parfitt
Rick Parfitt

Looking at the new songs, “Is Someone Rocking Your Heart” is the best of the three but in truth none of them are especially catchy or memorable – something that can certainly be said of most of Quo’s best work in the past.

Although Rick Parfitt plays and sings on the record he suffered a major heart attack on tour earlier this year and has just announced – via an interview with Classic Rock magazine – that he will not be returning to the band in a performing capacity. Francis Rossi, the undoubted leader of the group, has decided that the current “The Last Night Of The Electrics” tour will be the last time they perform with the famous Telecasters plugged in and that future touring will be in the Aquostic style only.

richie-maloneThis tour sees Parfitt’s rhythm guitar role being performed by guitarist Richie Malone (a long-term Quo fan) and his vocal duties shared between bassist John “Rhino” Edwards and keyboardist Andrew Bown. Having taken the decision not to return, Parfitt stated that “…in my heart I’m a rocker, I’ve always been. If I’m going to make music it’s got to rock…” and that “…there would probably have been room for me if I decided I wanted to, but I’m not a great fan of the whole acoustic malarkey. It doesn’t float my boat…”. While he is careful not to say anything negative towards his old bandmate it’s clear that Rossi calls the shots.

Francis Rossi, John "Rhino" Edwards & Andrew Bown
Francis Rossi, John “Rhino” Edwards & Andrew Bown

The band’s official statement states that “…Rick will step back from his regular touring commitments with the band…” but that his “…connection with and within the band of course remains intact and that he will continue to be involved with future non-touring commercial activities of the band…” Quite what that means if Rossi is determined to stick to the Aqoustic formula, which Parfitt doesn’t like, is anyone’s guess but further recording involving Parfitt appears unlikely.

Leon Cave
Leon Cave

Overall, then, this is a pleasant enough album. Both Rossi and Parfitt’s voices are showing their age – oddly Rossi sounds better during the group’s plugged-in concerts than on this album – but at 67 and 68 respectively then that’s no huge surprise. The rest of the group, the aforementioned Edwards, Bown and drummer Leon Cave acquit themselves well enough within this context but, as with the two main men I prefer to hear them plugged in and at full flight.

Rick Parfitt & Francis Rossi
Rick Parfitt & Francis Rossi

Given that Quo’s last proper album – 2011’s “Quid Per Quo” – was such a great record it’s a real shame that their career looks to be coming to a close with a fairly naff film soundtrack (“Bula Quo” in 2013) and now two acoustic re-imaginings after so many great years of quality rock records. I for one will miss the days with Rossi and Parfitt cranking out all those classic riffs and songs…status-quo-btm

“Aquostic II – That’s A Fact!” tracklist:

1. That’s A Fact / 2. Roll Over Lay Down / 3. Dear John / 4. In The Army Now / 5. Hold You Back / 6. One For The Road / 7. Backwater / 8. One Of Everything / 9. Belavista Man / 10. Lover Of The Human Race / 11. Ice In The Sun / 12. Mess Of The Blues / 13. Jam Side Down / 14. Resurrection / 15. Lies / 16. Little Dreamer / 17. Living On An Island / 18. Is Someone Rocking Your Heart? / 19. Rockers Rollin’

1 originally from “Blue For You” (1976) / 2 originally from “Hello!” (1973) / 3 originally from “1+9+8+2” (1982) / 4 originally from “In The Army Now” (1986) / 5 and 19 originally from “Rockin’ All Over The World” (1977) / 6, 8 and 18 brand new songs / 7 originally from “Quo” (1974) / 9 originally from “The Party Ain’t Over Yet” (2005) / 10 originally from “Thirsty Work” (1994) / 11 originally from “Picturesque Matchstickable Messages From” (1968) / 12 originally from “Back To Back” (1983) / 13 originally from “Heavy Traffic” (2002) / 14 originally from “Never Too Late” (1981) / 15 originally from “Just Supposin'” (1980) / 16 originally from “Perfect Remedy” (1989) / 17 originally from “Whatever You Want” (1979)

1976 – My Top Ten Albums Of The Year

Continuing my countdown backwards through the Seventies today, with my personal favourite ten album releases of 1976…

1. Billy Joel “Turnstiles”

Billy Joel - Turnstiles
Billy Joel – Turnstiles

The singer’s fourth album, Joel actually recorded “Turnstiles” twice. Firstly with producer William James Guercio, known for his work with Chicago, and session musicians. Unhappy with the results, Joel fired the producer, relocated to New York and produced the final version himself, using his regular touring band to back him on the record.

Although not nearly as commercially successful as his subsequent album “The Stranger”, there are nonetheless some fantastic songs present here including the singles “Say Goodbye To Hollywood” and “James”.

Also included are the classic “New York State Of Mind” and live favourite “Prelude / Angry Young Man” as well as a trio of songs that I first discovered on the singer’s live album “Songs From The Attic” – “Summer, Highland Falls”, “I’ve Loved These Days” and the epic “Miami 2017 (Seen The Lights Go Out On Broadway)”.

2. Eagles “Hotel California”

Eagles - Hotel California
Eagles – Hotel California

A slightly odd one, this. The band’s fifth record, it was to become their best-selling studio album is undoubtedly a very good one, but does feel arguably somewhat front-loaded. By that I mean that the best-known tracks all come first and surely anyone would find it hard to maintain the momentum after having the stone-cold classic “Hotel California” itself, with the famous guitar solos, as the very first track.

Then again, if you can follow that one up with the sublime “New Kid In Town” and then “Life In The Fast Lane” things can’t be that hard! Even the less well-known songs, though, such as “Victim Of Love”, “The Last Resort” and “Pretty Maids All In A Row” are top-quality Eagles songs.

As usual with Eagles, superb vocals and excellent instrumentation abound throughout this record. A fabulous album from start to finish.

3. Kansas “Leftoverture”

Kansas - Leftoverture
Kansas – Leftoverture

Another record best known for its first track, “Leftoverture” was the fourth album from American band Kansas. In this case that first track was the classic “Carry On Wayward Son”, a song that I first discovered in 1984 on a compilation album titled “American Heartbeat” that also contained tracks from the likes of Survivor, Toto and REO Speedwagon. From that moment the song has held a special place in my affections with its complex yet brilliantly catchy and music.

The inclusion of other superb tracks like “Miracles Out Of Nowhere”, second single “What’s On My Mind” and the six-part epic “Magnum Opus” makes this a fantastic hard / progressive rock album.

4. KISS “Destroyer” / “Rock And Roll Over”

KISS - Destroyer
KISS – Destroyer

As I Noted with 1977’s “Love Gun”, KISS music isn’t designed to be a cerebral experience – it’s all about having a good time, and for KISS it doesn’t get much better than “Destroyer”, their fourth studio album.

Kicking off with the timeless “Detroit Rock City”, one of four singles issued from the record. The others were “Flaming Youth”, the anthem “Shout It Out Loud” and the unexpected hit ballad “Beth” that featured a lead vocal from drummer Peter Criss.

Also on “Destroyer” can be found “God Of Thunder” and “Do You Love Me?” In fact, with the exception of “Great Expectations” which lets the side down somewhat, there isn’t a duff track to be heard. A great remixed version of the record was issued in 2012 as “Destroyer : Resurrected”, remixed by original producer Bob Ezrin and adding some previously missing vocal and guitar parts.

KISS - Rock And Roll Over
KISS – Rock And Roll Over

The group’s second album of the year was “Rock ‘N’ Roll Over”, just eight months later. Again the album kicks off with a classic, this time “I Want You” which has always been one of my favourite early KISS songs. Two singles were released from this record – “Hard Luck Woman” and “Calling Dr. Love” – both of which would also be up there on a list of my all-time favourite KISS tracks.

Although not as strong overall as “Destroyer”, there were other decent tracks on “Rock ‘N’ Roll Over” like “Ladies Room” and “Makin’ Love”.

5. Led Zeppelin “Presence”

Led Zeppelin - Presence
Led Zeppelin – Presence

“Presence” was Led Zeppelin’s seventh studio album and came into being during a difficult time for the band as singer Robert Plant recovered from serious injuries suffered during a car accident in the summer of 1975 on the island of Rhodes, meaning that the group had to cancel a world tour due to start a matter of weeks later.

Nonetheless, it was he who, together with guitarist Jimmy Page, was responsible for six out of the album’s seven tracks, with only “Royal Orleans” being credited to the whole band.

This is very much a guitar-driven album, pointing to the dominant influence that Page had over proceedings, with little or nothing of keyboards or acoustic guitars in evidence.

The ten-minute “Achilles Last Stand” starts off the record is fine fashion. “For Your Life”, the psychedelic-tinged “Nobody’s Fault But Mine” (adapted from a song recorded in 1927 by Blind Willie Johnson) and the bluesy “Tea For One” are the other standout tracks on this, as usual, excellent Led Zeppelin album.

6. Rainbow “Rising”

Rainbow - Rising
Rainbow – Rising

The second album from Ritchie Blackmore’s post-Deep Purple band Rainbow saw the first of many line-up changes as he jettisoned everyone that had appeared on the previous year’s debut record except singer Ronnie James Dio, the most notable new member – in my eyes – being drummer extraordinaire Cozy Powell.

A haunting synthesizer intro ushers in opening track “Tarot Woman”, one of the highlights of the album. Also present is the single “Starstruck” which is a fine example of Blackmore’s fusion of classical influences with hard rock.  Without a doubt, however, the highpoint of this record is the majestic eight-minute “Stargazer” which begins with a perfect example of Powell’s formidable drumming skills and features the Munich Philharmonic Orchestra, one of Dio’s best ever vocal performances and some of Blackmore’s most inspired soloing.

The album cover, too, is a classic. A perfect visual representation of the music contained within, the painting by fantasy artist Ken Kelly (who also produced the cover for “Destroyer” by KISS) evokes the epic scale of the band’s music and is possible one of the best-loved hard rock album covers ever. I even have a framed copy hanging on the wall of my study.

7. Rush “2112”

Rush - 2112
Rush – 2112

“2112” was Canadian trio Rush’s fourth studio record and, in common with other albums on this list, begins with one of the group’s most celebrated compositions – in this case the twenty-minute seven-part title track. The track was a concept piece set in the year 2112 when the priests of the temples of Syrinx have complete control over everyday life. It was apparently influenced to some degree by the novella “Anthem” by Russian author Ayn Rand.

“2112” took up the entire first side of the original vinyl release, and side two presented a further five tracks, not connected to the concept found in the title track. The first two, “A Passage To Bangkok” (a light-hearted look at drug use in the Seventies) and “The Twilight Zone” (inspired by the TV show), were issued as singles. In truth the remainder of the album is less essential but those three tracks are worth the price of admission alone. Oh, and another classic album cover – courtesy of long-time Rush collaborator Hugh Syme.

8. Slade “Nobody’s Fools”

Slade - Nobody's Fools
Slade – Nobody’s Fools

The sixth album from UK band Slade, this one was not as well received as those released during their initial early Seventies heyday. This was in part because the band had spent the previous year in the USA trying to break through there, leading to some UK fans to feel that Slade had sold out, which was reinforced by the change of sound on this album which showed the influence of American music with female backing singers and touches of soul, funk and country music evident.

For what it’s worth I reckon this is actually a very good, strong Slade album with some very good songs and a better sound than on some of their other albums.

Singles-wise (which is what the band were known for to many) the album produced “In For A Penny”, “Let’s Call It Quits” and the (almost) title track. The first two both reached number eleven in the UK but “Nobody’s Fool” itself failed to chart.

Of the non-single tracks, the highlights for me are “Get On Up”, the reggae-influenced “Did Ya Mama Ever Tell Ya” and “I’m A Talker” – and the CD reissue added the 1975 standalone single “Thanks For The Memory (Wham Bam Thank You Mam)”.

9. Status Quo “Blue For You”

Status Quo - Blue For You
Status Quo – Blue For You

Status Quo’s ninth studio album (and third UK number one) “Blue For You” begins in thunderous fashion with the heavy boogie of “Is There A Better Way” but, as with most of the band’s albums and contrary to the general public perception of the group, there was an element of light and shade on display on the record, with the slow gentle blues of “Blue For You” and the country-influenced “Ease Your Mind” a contrast to the uptempo shuffle of “Rolling Home” and the groovy “That’s A Fact”, one of the album’s highpoints.

Best of all, however, are the two singles. “Rain”, written solely by guitarist Parfitt will forever be one of my favourite of the band’s tracks, whilst “Mystery Song” – especially in its full six-plus-minutes version – is also up there with their best.

10. Thin Lizzy “Jailbreak” / “Johnny The Fox”

Thin Lizzy - Jailbreak
Thin Lizzy – Jailbreak

As with the KISS records above, and as I sometimes do, I’m bending the criteria slightly by including two albums by one artist under one entry. Irish rockers Thin Lizzy issued two studio records during 1976 – “Jailbreak” in March and “Johnny The Fox” in October.

I would say that it is “Jailbreak” that is the best-known of the two by virtue of the material contained on it. Two of the band’s most famous songs (both released in the UK as singles) are present in “The Boys Are Back In Town” and “Jailbreak” but also here are “Warriors”, “Cowboy Song” and “Emerald” which would all become Thin Lizzy classics – and all five of those tracks would appear on 1978’s classic live record “Live And Dangerous”.

Thin Lizzy - Johnny The Fox
Thin Lizzy – Johnny The Fox

The line-up of Lynott, Gorham, Downey and Robertson remained stable for long enough to record the follow-up “Johnny The Fox”, though the latter would be replaced more than once by Gary Moore in subsequent years. This second album of the year only had one track issued as a single in the UK – the number twelve hit “Don’t Believe A Word”.

Another couple of tracks destined to appear on “Live And Dangerous” also featured – the funky “Johnny The Fox Meets Jimmy The Weed” and “Massacre” which echoes the earlier record’s “Emerald”. Further highlights here were “Fools Gold” and the drum-heavy “Boogie Woogie Dance”. One could argue that the two albums could have been distilled into one single killer record, but that would have meant losing some excellent, though lesser-known, material.

Elsewhere in 1976 Harold Wilson gave way to James Callaghan as British Prime Minister whilst over in the USA Gerald Ford held the office of President. In football Liverpool replaced Derby County as champions of the old first division into which Manchester United had been promoted following a season in the second division (1974-75). United lost to Southampton in the FA Cup final. The biggest film releases of the year included “Rocky”, “A Star Is Born” and the classic that is “The Omen”. Oh, and last but in no way least, 1976 was the year in which my lovely wife was born!

1975 coming up next in a week or two…

1977 – My Top Ten Albums Of The Year

OK, so still gradually working back through the Seventies, and here are my top ten albums released back in 1977…

  1. AC/DC “Let There Be Rock”
AC/DC - Let There Be Rock
AC/DC – Let There Be Rock

The third album to be released world-wide by the band, and their fourth in Australia, “Let There Be Rock” was a big step forward in terms of the group’s sound and style with more guitar solos – and just guitar in general – than before.

The record contains a number of bonafide classic AC/DC songs, including “Whole Lotta Rosie”, “Hell Ain’t A Bad Place To Be”, “Bad Boy Boogie” and “Let There Be Rock” itself. The first and last of these were released as singles, along with “Dog Eat Dog”, though only “Whole Lotta Rosie” troubled the lower reaches of the charts in the UK.

An excellent AC/DC record, one of the best from not only the Bon Scott fronted era but the band’s entire history.

2. Billy Joel “The Stranger”

Billy Joel - The Stranger
Billy Joel – The Stranger

A much more restrained affair than the aforementioned AC/DC record, Billy Joel’s fifth studio album “The Stranger” is nonetheless also one of the very best in the artists’ entire catalogue.

Four tracks were released as successful singles in the US – “Just The Way You Are”, “Movin’ Out (Anthony’s Song)”, “She’s Always A Woman” and “Only The Good Die Young” – and the first three of those made the UK top forty too.

Those songs are timeless, and the album remains one of Joel’s best-selling efforts. For me, though, aside from the singles the best of the album can be found in the haunting “The Stranger” and the fantastic “Scenes From An Italian Restaurant”, a real storyteller of a song, which was a highlight of his live set when I was lucky enough to catch it on the 1990 “Storm Front” tour.

3. Fleetwood Mac “Rumours”

Fleetwood Mac - Rumours
Fleetwood Mac – Rumours

Surely one of the best known and most loved albums of the decade, Fleetwood Mac’s eleventh studio album was the one that saw their international success continue to build upon that achieved two years earlier with their self-titled album – which had introduced Stevie Nicks and Lyndsay Buckingham to the band’s ranks.

To date “Rumours” has sold in excess of forty million copies, taking it into the top ten best-selling albums of all time, actually at number eight. A number one album in the UK, the record spawned four hit singles – “Go Your Own Way“, “Dreams”, “Don’t Stop” and “You Make Loving Fun” – and still had room for classic tracks such as “Songbird”, “The Chain” and “Gold Dust Woman”.

Most folk probably know all about the drama that surrounded the recording of this album, with marriages and relationships imploding, affairs going on and the songs being about (and aimed) each other. That they managed to make a record at all was a triumph over adversity. To have made such a timeless classic is remarkable. A simply brilliant album.

4. Heart “Little Queen”

Heart - Little Queen
Heart – Little Queen

Before they had huge melodic rock hits in the late Eighties, Seattle band Heart were sometimes compared to British legends Led Zeppelin in terms of their fusion of hard rock and acoustics and use of light and shade in their material.

This was only the group’s second studio album release, and appeared during a time of difficulty for the band. When their first album had reached a million sales the group’s record label took out an advertisement to celebrate that the Wilson sisters, Ann and Nancy, took offence to, finding it to be sexist and insulting. That lead to a stand-off between group and label over the recordings for their planned second album “Magazine” for which the group had recorded, but not finished, just five new songs.

The label nonetheless released those recordings, padded out with a b-side and some live tracks just a month before “Little Queen” hit the shelves before legal action meant that it was swiftly withdrawn. Eventually the band re-recorded and finished “Magazine” and it was released in 1978.

“Little Queen” meanwhile kicked off with the storming “Barracuda”, a song inspired by reactions to the advertisement that caused the furore in the first place. That song was the lead single from the album, followed by “Little Queen” and “Kick It Out”. Elsewhere the beautiful “Love Alive” and “Dream Of The Archer” were among the acoustic based numbers that would draw comparison with Led Zeppelin, as would the more bombastic closer “Go On Cry”.

Not the high point of the band’s career in terms of sales success, although it still managed triple platinum in the US, but one of their stronger albums artistically speaking. Great stuff.

5. Jethro Tull “Songs From The Wood”

Jethro Tull - Songs From The Wood
Jethro Tull – Songs From The Wood

As mentioned in my post on 1978, “Songs From The Wood” was the first in a loose trilogy of folk rock albums on themes surrounding nature and the changing world. It’s also probably my favourite of the three records.

Containing a trio of singles – “The Whistler”, “Songs From The Wood” and the winter-themed “Ring Out Solstice Bells”, none of which achieved much in the way of chart success – as well as other cracking tunes like “Jack-In-The-Green”, “Velvet Green” and the superb “Pibroch (Cap In Hand)” this is a great record best summed up by the text of an advertisement at the time, which read “…a new album of old magic… inspired by the thought that perhaps nature isn’t as gentle as we’d like to believe… takes as its theme the natural and supernatural inhabitants of the woodlands of old England… warm and friendly, harsh and bitter by turns. Find a quiet spot and listen to it soon.” An excellent album.

6. KISS “Love Gun”

KISS - Love Gun
KISS – Love Gun

From the depth of Jethro Tull to the shallowness of KISS! Let’s be honest, KISS songs are all about love and sex and having a great time, and there’s nothing wrong with that!

“Love Gun” was the American hard rock band’s sixth studio album. Released just a few months before “Alive II”, their second double live record, and with the folly of the four individual solo albums to come in 1978, this was the last great early albums before the slump leading up to concept album “Music From The Elder” in 1981.

While they were at the top of their game, however, KISS were excellent. “Christine Sixteen”, “Love Gun” and a cover of The Crystals’ “Then He Kissed Me” retitled as “Then She Kissed Me” were released as singles, and other classic tracks on the record include opener “I Stole Your Love”, “Shock Me” and “Tomorrow And Tonight”.

7. Meat Loaf “Bat Out Of Hell”

Meat Loaf - Bat Out Of Hell
Meat Loaf – Bat Out Of Hell

As with Fleetwood Mac’s “Rumours”, this one probably needs little introduction and is also in the top ten best-selling albums of all time, this time at number five.

The record was the first collaboration between Meat Loaf and songwriter Jim Steinman, which because of its enormous success has cast something of a shadow over Meat Loaf’s subsequent recording career.

Of the seven songs on the album four were issued as singles. In the US there were top forty placings for “You Took The Words Right Out Of My Mouth (Hot Summer Night)”, the ever-brilliant “Paradise By The Dashboard Light” and “Two Out Of Three Ain’t Bad”, whilst here in the UK the first two of those, plus “Bat Out Of Hell” (albeit not until 1979), also made the top forty and all are live favourites to this day.

The remaining three songs, “Heaven Can Wait”, “All Revved Up With No Place To Go” and “For Crying Out Loud”, round out this definitive Meat Loaf album that still stands out as something very special nearly forty years later.

8. Motörhead “Motörhead”

Motörhead - Motörhead
Motörhead – Motörhead

The self-titled debut album from Lemmy’s band Motörhead wasn’t really their debut album at all. The record that they recorded first was 1976’s “On Parole” but the record company behind it, United Artists, shelved it and that album didn’t see the light of day until the tail end of 1979, by which time both “Overkill” and “Bomber” had brought the band chart success in the top thirty album chart.

“Motörhead” was recorded one weekend in early 1977, with the band about to call it a day and break up. Given a couple of days recording time by Chiswick label boss Ted Carroll they re-recorded the majority of “On Parole” (7 of the 9 original tracks) with the addition of a couple of additional numbers.

The song “Motörhead” was released as a single. Technically a cover version, the song was written by Lemmy during his time as a member of Hawkwind and appeared on the b-side to that band’s 1975 single “Kings Of Speed”.

The first recording by the legendary line-up of Lemmy, “Fast” Eddie Clarke and Phil “Philthy Animal” Taylor, the album isn’t blessed with the best production job or performances (“On Parole” may just edge it) but is an excellent snapshot of the band on their way to becoming one of the greatest heavy metal bands of all time.

9. Slade “Whatever Happened To Slade

Slade - Whatever Happened To Slade
Slade – Whatever Happened To Slade

Often viewed as a singles band, no doubt due to their extraordinary run of chart hits in the early Seventies, Slade made some very good albums in their time. One of the best, in my opinion, was this one although ironically it was their first album not to chart since their first flush of success. Even 1976’s “Nobody’s Fools” had managed number fourteen but by March 1977 when “Whatever Happened To…” was released the band’s popularity had declined markedly.

A more straight ahead rock album than much of their previous work, this album contains some great songs. Some of these – the tongue-tripping opener “Be” and “One Eyed Jacks With Moustaches” – I had been introduced to via a taped copy of the “Alive Vol. 2” album from a friend, whilst I first heard the single “Gypsy Roadhog” on the 1980 compilation “Slade Smashes”. Other cracking songs on the record included “When Fantasy Calls”, “She’s Got The Lot” and “It Ain’t Love But It Ain’t Bad”.

The reissued CD version from 2007 also included a number of non-album singles and b-sides from 1977/78 including “Give Us A Goal”, “Burning In The Heat Of Love” and the Elvis Presley tribute “My Baby Left Me / That’s Alright” to make a great album even better.

10. Status Quo “Rockin’ All Over The World”

Status Quo - Rockin' All Over The World
Status Quo – Rockin’ All Over The World

Released during November 1977,  “Rockin’ All Over The World” was Status Quo’s tenth studio album and reached number five in the UK album chart.

Two singles were issued – “Rockin’ All Over The World” which saw the infamous bass playing puppet used when Alan Lancaster was unable / unwilling to fly back from Australia to film the video for the song, and “Rockers Rollin'” – although the latter, a double a-side with “Hold You Back” was not released in the UK.

Recently a remixed version of the album has been issued, so I have already written at some length about this record. Suffice it to say that, despite the lightweight sound of the album, it has remained a much-loved album since I first discovered it around 1981/82 whilst amassing the band’s back catalogue after getting their 1981 album “Never Too Late”.

In the usual round-up of events in this year we find James Callaghan as British Prime Minister and Jimmy Carter becoming President of the USA (replacing Gerald Ford). Liverpool won the old First Division for the tenth time but lost to Manchester United in final of the FA Cup. Top film releases of 1977 included “Star Wars”, “Close Encounters Of The Third Kind”, “Saturday Night Fever” and the James Bond movie “The Spy Who Loved Me”.

Look out for 1976 in the (fairly) near future…

Rockin’ All Over The World Remix

OYm8XayZRlkOgxlU-sEOe6wASBUAfter the recent remixed “Deliverance & Damnation” release from Opeth I have another remixed album to look at today. This time it’s the legendary Status Quo.

Status Quo - 1977 Tour Programme
Status Quo – 1977 Tour Programme

The band are in the midst of having some of their earlier albums re-issued as “deluxe editions”. Last year saw “Piledriver” (1972) and “Live!” (1977) get the treatment which included unreleased material of varying quality. “Hello!” (1973), “Quo” (1975) and “Rockin’ All Over The World” (1977) have all just been released. Again unreleased material is included – in the case of “Quo” a disappointingly bootleg quality live recording – but it’s within the deluxe edition of “Rockin’ All Over The World” that the real gold is contained…

Status Quo Live
Status Quo Live

1977 looks to have been a significant year for Status Quo. On the back of a string of self-produced albums since 1972, which had all been successful, the band worked with engineer Damon Lyon-Shaw to co-produce 1976’s “Blue For You” album and the subsequent double “Live!” album which was recorded later that year in Glasgow. “Live!” was released in March 1977 and is rightly regarded as a classic live album in an era when live albums were something of an event for artists. It was also the sound of the band at their heaviest.

Francis Rossi
Francis Rossi

When the “Rockin’ All Over The World” hit the shelves in November 1977 though, there had been a significant shift in sound. Guitarist / vocalists Francis Rossi and Rick Parfitt, bassist / vocalist Alan Lancaster and drummer John Coghlan had been joined by keyboardist Andrew Bown as a full-time band member, having previously been a session musician with the group since 1973.

Rick Parfitt
Rick Parfitt

Aside from much more prominent keyboards, the record was also noticeably lighter sonically, with much more emphasis on the treble end of things. As a result, despite the quality of the songs – three of which (“Dirty Water”, “Hold You Back” and of course “Rockin’ All Over The World”) have been regulars in the group’s live set over the subsequent decades – this is an album that has perhaps proved less popular with their fanbase than it deserved.

Alan Lancaster
Alan Lancaster

The reasons for the quality of sound on the original release are varied. Pip Williams was brought in to produce the album for the band, and was assisted by young engineer John Eden. Williams asserted that the band were “under immense pressure to clean it up a bit” and that his job was to “make them more commercial with, perhaps, an American slant”.

John Coghlan
John Coghlan

Elsewhere Eden has said, I believe, that the record was two songs too long because of a “publishing issue of the writers (within the band) getting their equal share” making the album too long to get the required bottom end. I’m not sure about this particular claim as of the ten songs that the three main writers in the band have a hand in the credits are spilt as follows – 5 for Francis Rossi, 4 for Rick Parfitt and 3 for Alan Lancaster. The remaining two songs have not input from any of the three.

Andy Bown
Andy Bown

Regardless of the truth behind the publishing claim, Williams also commented on the lack of bottom end, stating “the longer than usual running time meant we had to cope with inner-groove distortion when the record was cut, while also shaving off the low end”.

Bob Young, Francis Rossi, Rick Parfitt & Pip Williams
Bob Young, Francis Rossi, Rick Parfitt & Pip Williams

Both men agree that “it was mixed on Auratones for American AM radio, so that it would sound great coming out of little speakers” and Eden notes that the pills(!) that were being taken may have had an influence on how it sounded too!

Status Quo
Status Quo

So now, some thirty-eight years later, the record has finally been remixed and released as the second disc in the album’s “deluxe edition”. John Eden was the man given the remixing task which was seemingly completed a good couple of years ago, so it’s taken some time to see light of day. The running order for the record has also been changed, at Eden’s suggestion, so it’s kind of like listening to a new album.

Rick Parfitt & Francis Rossi
Rick Parfitt & Francis Rossi

“Hold You Back” now starts the record, in place of “Hard Time” which has been moved to the end of the album. Immediately the sound is punchier. The keyboards are far less prominent. The song no longer fades out it comes to a sudden stop followed by some studio chatter from Rossi.

Status Quo & Road Crew In 1977 Tour Programme
Status Quo & Road Crew In 1977 Tour Programme

“Baby Boy” is up next and again the keyboards are stripped back. Guitar parts that I’ve never noticed before are suddenly audible. “Hard Time” has saxophone on it. Was that there before?!

Francis Rossi, Rick Parfitt & Alan Lancaster
Francis Rossi, Rick Parfitt & Alan Lancaster

“Rockers Rollin'” and “Can’t Give You More” now have their count-ins restored. The guitars sound rawer and rockier. There are some sections – such as the intro to “Let’s Ride” where it sounds as if the source tape may have degraded slightly, but with the improvements made to the rest of the track it doesn’t matter really.

Status Quo - Rockin' All Over The World
Status Quo – Rockin’ All Over The World

Even “Rockin’ All Over The World” – a song that Parfitt suggested to the band, and one that has suffered a little from over exposure over the years – sounds great. I am one of those who has always enjoyed the original album – I first had it on vinyl back in 1981 – but I have to say that this new version is a massive improvement. The sound is fuller throughout, whilst also reintroducing some rawness to the album so that it sounds much more like the real Status Quo to my ears.

Status Quo Live
Status Quo Live

There are four demo tracks tacked onto the end of the disc, recorded in 1976, of “Dirty Water”, “Baby Boy”, “Hard Time” and “Hold You Back”. These are interesting to hear, particularly “Hard Time” which has a different arrangement in the chorus and “Dirty Water” which shows the guitar solo to be a work-in-progress, but are unlikely to be listened to more than a couple of times.

The remixed album, however, is fantastic and breathes new life into the songs. It’s certainly put the album back onto regular rotation for me. An absolutely essential addition to any serious Status Quo collection…raotw-deluxe400“Rockin’ All Over The World Remix” tracklist:

1. Hold You Back / 2. Baby Boy / 3 Rockers Rollin’ / 4. Who Am I? / 5. Rockin’ All Over The World / 6. Dirty Water / 7. Can’t Give You More / 8. Let’s Ride / 9. For You / 10. Too Far Gone / 11. You Don’t Own Me / 12. Hard Time / 13. Dirty Water (Demo) / 14. Baby Boy (Demo) / 15. Hard Time (Demo) / 16. Hold You Back (Demo)

1978 – My Top Ten Albums Of The Year

No blog for a few days as I have been busy decorating and room moving, as the kids are getting bigger and wanting more space, leading to the wife and I converting our dining room into our new master bedroom. That part’s now achieved (more to do though…) so normal service now being resumed.

Continuing my trawl backwards through the Seventies, having examined my favourite albums of 1979, today I present to you my top ten albums of 1978…

  1. Bruce Springsteen “Darkness On The Edge Of Town”
Bruce Springsteen - Darkness On The Edge Of Town
Bruce Springsteen – Darkness On The Edge Of Town

Following the huge success of 1975’s breakthrough album “Born To Run” was never going to be easy, and enduring a legal battle with his former manager kept Springsteen out of the studio until late 1977.

With a huge number of songs written and recorded, the eventual album was pared down to ten tracks, including singles “Prove It All Night”, “Badlands” and “The Promised Land”. Twenty two further recordings would surface in 2010 on the album “The Promise” – a collection of outtakes from the “Darkness…” sessions.

Back in ’78 the original album also contained future classics in the shape of “Racing In The Street”, “Streets Of Fire”, “Adam Raised A Cain” and, of course, the title track.

A less epic, more immediate sounding album than its predecessor, “Darkness On The Edge Of Town” is the least accessible of the two, but arguably the better artistically. Regardless, it remains a cracking and indispensable Springsteen record.

2. Jeff Wayne “The War Of The Worlds”

Jeff Wayne - The War Of The Worlds
Jeff Wayne – The War Of The Worlds

I think it was in the early Eighties that I first heard “Jeff Wayne’s Musical Version Of The War Of The Worlds” (to give it its full title). I loved it straight away and still listen to it quite often today.

A musical retelling of the famous 1897 science fiction novel from English author H.G. Wells, this double album featured a number of high-profile performers including actor Richard Burton, and singers Justin Hayward, Phil Lynott, David Essex and Julie Covington.

Unusually for a double concept album, which itself spent nearly 300 weeks in the UK charts, it also produced a hit single – “Forever Autumn”.

With great packaging, well told story, great performances and superb compositions – very catchy songs and motifs – this is a classic album beyond doubt.

3. Jethro Tull “Heavy Horses”

Jethro Tull - Heavy Horses
Jethro Tull – Heavy Horses

This is an album that I have got into quite recently. In fact, it’s fair to say that the album has only really resonated with me since moving to the countryside and connecting with the natural world more.

The band’s eleventh studio album, this one is the middle piece of a trilogy of folk rock albums looking at themes surrounding nature and the effects of the changing world – the others being “Songs From The Wood” (1977) and “Stormwatch” (1979).

Group leader Ian Anderson had himself moved onto a farm and this is likely to have influenced his thinking and songwriting at the time. Whilst “Songs…” celebrated the enduring quality of nature “Heavy Horses” concerned itself with increasing industrialisation at the expense of the natural world.

Although the record was released in April of ’78 many have remarked that it has an autumnal feeling, and certainly I would have to agree that it does seem to fit that time of year particularly well, but is an excellent listen at any time of year.

“Moths” was released as a single from this album, and is one of the more folky tracks here, along with the likes of “Rover” and “Weathercock”, but the band’s progressive leanings still show through on songs like “No Lullaby” and “Heavy Horses”.

A truly great Jethro Tull album.

4. Kate Bush “The Kick Inside” / “Lionheart”

Kate Bush - The Kick Inside
Kate Bush – The Kick Inside

The first of two albums released in 1978 by a nineteen year old Kate Bush, debut record “The Kick Inside” was followed within nine months by “Lionheart”, with both making the UK top ten.

“The Kick Inside” contained the number one hit single “Wuthering Heights” and the beautiful “The Man With The Child In His Eyes”, the latter written when Bush was just thirteen years old. Other great songs here include “James And The Cold Gun”, “Feel It” and “Them Heavy People”.

Kate Bush - Lionheart
Kate Bush – Lionheart

On “Lionheart”, meanwhile, can be found a further two singles – “Hammer Horror” and “Wow“. Other notable tracks are “Oh England My Lionheart”, “Symphony In Blue” and “In The Warm Room”.

Bush herself was unhappy with how the second album turned out, as she felt that it was rushed under pressure from the record company. However, these two records mark an incredible year for the young artist who was destined to go on and create much more marvellous and inspirational music.

5. Queen “Jazz”

Queen - Jazz
Queen – Jazz

This was the seventh album from Queen, and their last studio album of the Seventies.

Released in November, the album’s release had been preceded by the double A side single “Bicycle Race” / “Fat Bottomed Girls” in October.

The album also contains “Don’t Stop Me Now”, another hit single for the group, as well as highlights such as “Let Me Entertain You” and “Dreamers Ball”. “Fun It”, a funky track, showed the direction the band would embrace wholeheartedly for 1982’s controversial “Hot Space” record.

If only May and Taylor could follow Deacon’s lead and stop tarnishing the Queen name in the present day. The collaboration with Paul Rodgers was a worthy, if ill-advised, effort, but the tours etc. with Adam Lambert and any number of guest singers that they have insisted in inflicting on the public since Mercury’s death are lamentable. Both could produce decent solo work – indeed Taylor’s most recent solo album is rather good – and I am unconvinced by the regular mantra that “Freddie would have approved”.

Still, “Jazz” is one of the band’s best records, from a time when they embraced a whole variety of genres on their albums, and is as good to listen to today as ever.

6. Rainbow “Long Live Rock ‘N’ Roll”

Rainbow - Long Live Rock 'N' Roll
Rainbow – Long Live Rock ‘N’ Roll

The third album from Ritchie Blackmore’s band, and the last to feature the wonderful vocals of Ronnie James Dio.

The majority of the record was recorded by the trio of Blackmore, Dio and drummer Cozy Powell in 1977 before bassist Bob Daisley and keyboardist David Stone joined the line-up.

The album made number 6 in the UK, whilst two singles also charted – “L.A. Connection” at number 40 and “Long Live Rock ‘N’ Roll” at number 33.

Hits aside, however, the best of the album included “Kill The King”, “The Shed (Subtle)”, “Rainbow Eyes” and the brilliant “Gates Of Babylon”. The band’s sound would take a turn towards more commercial territory by the time of their next album, leaving this as the last of their epic and expansive hard rock records. Essential listening.

7. Rush “Hemispheres”

Rush - Hemispheres
Rush – Hemispheres

Recorded just down the road from here, at Rockfield Studios in Monmouth, “Hemispheres” was Canadian band Rush’s sixth studio album.

As with the group’s previous three albums, this one contains a lengthy track alongside some more concise tracks.

In the case of “Hemispheres”, the lengthy track is the sci-fi opener “Cygnus X-1 Book II : Hemispheres” which comes in at just over eighteen minutes. Book I had closed the group’s 1977 album “A Farewell To Kings” and was itself ten minutes in length.

“Circumstances”, at under four minutes, was the album’s shortest song, with single “The Trees” being next at nearly five. That just left closing instrumental track “La Villa Strangiato”, subtitled “An Exercise In Self-Indulgence” which is over nine and a half minutes long.

So, four tracks totalling thirty-six minutes. A fairly average length for a Rush record in the Seventies, but the music is of such quality that this is anything but an average album. Excellent.

8. Status Quo “If You Can’t Stand The Heat…”

Status Quo - If You Can't Stand The Heat...
Status Quo – If You Can’t Stand The Heat…

The eleventh studio album from the group saw Status Quo incorporating a brass section and female backing singers into their sound for the first time, resulting in a record that is very much of its time.

Featuring two hit singles – “Again And Again” and “Accident Prone” – this is quite a poppy sounding record from the band (perhaps indicating that Francis Rossi had the upper hand during recording sessions?), though thankfully much fuller sounding than the previous year’s “Rockin’ All Over The World”. Nonetheless it still makes for a good listen.

“I’m Givin’ Up My Worryin'”, “Oh! What A Night”, “Stones”, “Let Me Fly” are all great catchy songs and “Long Legged Linda” and “Like A Good Girl” up the tempo nicely.

Incidentally, the ballad “Someone Show Me Home” reappeared as “Someone Show Me” on Rossi’s 1996 solo album “King Of The Doghouse”, though I personally prefer the original version found here. The band would return in 1979 with the much harder rocking “Whatever You Want” album.

9. Van Halen “Van Halen”

Van Halen - Van Halen
Van Halen – Van Halen

Released in February ’78, this was the debut album from California band Van Halen.

One of the great debuts in hard rock history, “Van Halen” contains tracks that have become live staples for the group ever since, including two hit singles – “Runnin’ With The Devil” and “You Really Got Me”, as well as the likes of “Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love” and “Jamie’s Cryin'”.

And let’s not forget the revolutionary instrumental guitar extravaganza that is “Eruption”! It sounds as fresh and exciting today as the day I first heard it. Eddie Van Halen is on fire throughout this record and the rest of the band are non too shabby either. Classic!

10. Whitesnake “Trouble”

Whitesnake - Trouble
Whitesnake – Trouble

I remember buying a cheap reissue of this on a cassette in the early Eighties, probably around the time of “Saints & Sinners”, and not being too sure about it to begin with.

Over the years since then, however, I have grown to love this album, and probably enjoy it more than “Ready An’ Willing” and “Come An’ Get It” to be honest.

Released during the same year as David Coverdale’s second solo album “Northwinds”, “Trouble” was the first record credited to Whitesnake and features the same personnel as 1979 album “Lovehunter” – another favourite.

Both the excellent “Lie Down (A Modern Love Song)” (not so much suggestive as blatant lyrically!) and “The Time Is Right For Love” were released as singles, although neither charted, and the album itself only made number 50 in the UK. A slow-burn version of the Beatles’ “Day Tripper”, instrumental “Belgian Tom’s Hat Trick” and tracks like “Love To Keep You Warm”, “Nighthawk (Vampire Blues)” and the title track, together with stellar performances from all involved all contributed to a fabulous first record from this now legendary rock band.

The usual round-up of events in this year include James Callaghan as British Prime Minister and Jimmy Carter as President of the USA, Nottingham Forest winning the old First Division and Ipswich Town beating Arsenal for the FA Cup, and top film releases of the year included “Grease”, “Superman” and the powerful “The Deer Hunter”.

1977 will be up next in a week or two…

1979 – My Top Ten Albums Of The Year

OK, so when I recently finished my look back at my favourite albums from the Eighties with my top ten from 1989 I wasn’t sure whether to next tackle the Nineties (having already looked at 1995 some time ago) or the Seventies (again, 1975 has already been covered).

Well, decision made – it’s the Seventies, but this time I’m going to start at the end of the decade and work my way back from 1979 to 1970. As I have mentioned previously we are now in territory where I have come to appreciate these records in retrospect, not having been exposed to the majority of them when they first appeared.

Without further ado, therefore, here are (in alphabetical order) my personal favourite ten albums released during 1979…

1. AC/DC “Highway To Hell”

AC/DC - Highway To Hell
AC/DC – Highway To Hell

The band’s fifth studio album to be released outside of Australia, and what was to prove to be lead singer Bon Scott’s last, as he died in 1980 during early sessions for what would become “Back In Black”.

I can remember having the vinyl copy of this record and playing it a lot back in the early 80s when I was beginning my love of / obsession with (delete as appropriate!) music, having been turned onto the band through my regular Friday night engagements with BBC Radio 1 and Tommy Vance’s fabulous Friday Rock Show.

Aside from the classic title track which was a number 56 single in the UK, “Girls Got Rhythm” would also be a hit reaching number 29.

There were plenty of songs on the record that were about girls and sex, including the aforementioned “Girls Got Rhythm”, “Beating Around The Bush”, “Love Hungry Man” and “Touch Too Much”, for this then-teenage boy to envisage, whilst the band attracted controversy subsequently with the final track “Night Prowler” as it became associated with the case of Los Angeles serial killer Richard Ramirez – a fan of the band – who had been nicknamed the Night Stalker.

Regardless, this album – produced by legendary producer Robert John “Mutt” Lange – is a classic hard rock record and one of AC/DC’s very best.

2. The Clash “London Calling”

The Clash - London Calling
The Clash – London Calling

It would be nice to bolster my street cred by claiming to have been into bands like The Clash, Joy Division, Stiff Little Fingers or the Specials in the late 70s, but the truth is I was never that cool! Even when I started to get into music in secondary school (where I started in September ’79) it was mainly rock, metal and pop music that I listened to. In retrospect, however, I have investigated and come to appreciate many acts that passed me by at the time, including The Clash.

Released just a couple of weeks before the year’s end, “London Calling” was the band’s third album and saw them moving further away from their punk rock roots and embracing a variety of styles including reggae, ska and rockabilly, and it was the fusing of reggae and punk that initially drew me to the record.

Whilst single “Train In Vain” didn’t chart in the UK, “London Calling” itself just missed the top ten, reaching number 11. With nineteen tracks spread across four sides of vinyl in its original double album format, there is a lot of value for money to be had here, with some of the best tracks being “The Guns Of Brixton”, “Lover’s Rock”, “Lost In The Supermarket”, “Spanish Bombs” and, of course, “London Calling”.

3. Cozy Powell “Over The Top”

Cozy Powell - Over The Top
Cozy Powell – Over The Top

An instrumental album, this one was one of my favourites for attempting to play along to on the drums – sounding I suspect nothing like the great man himself.

Hailing from Cirencester, Powell became one of rock’s most well-known and loved drummers for his work with bands such as Rainbow, Michael Schenker Group, Whitesnake and Black Sabbath. “Over The Top” was his first – and best – solo album and featured contributions from Gary Moore, Bernie Marsden, Don Airey, Clem Clempson and Jack Bruce.

Kicking off with a version of “Theme One”, originally a single for Van Der Graaf Generator in 1972 and used weekly as link music on Tommy Vance’s Friday Rock Show, the album is full of actually memorable instrumental numbers, with some great performances from all concerned.

Naturally the drums are the focus and nowhere is this more the case than on the closing track “Over The Top” which incorporates Tchaikovsky melodies with original themes written by Airey and Powell and some simply thunderous drum soloing. Undoubtedly this is a record for drummers, or at least fans of drumming, but it is still strong enough in my opinion to hold its own in this list.

4. Led Zeppelin “In Through The Out Door”

Led Zeppelin - In Through The Out Door
Led Zeppelin – In Through The Out Door

Released in August of ’79, this would prove to be the final studio album from Led Zeppelin (leaving aside the outtakes collection “Coda”) as drummer John Bonham died in September of the following year.

Less guitar-heavy than the preceding album 1976’s “Presence”, there was more influence on the sound and material from singer Robert Plant and bassist / keyboardist John Paul Jones as the pair experimented with a new synthesizer that Jones had obtained and guitarist Jimmy Page and Bonham allegedly battled their addictions to heroin and alcohol respectively.

Whilst admittedly different in sound to the rest of Zeppelin’s work I still love this record. Favourite tracks include the opening “In The Evening”, the keyboard-heavy “Carouselambra” and “Fool In The Rain” (with some fantastic syncopated drumming). The closing two tracks “All My Love” and “I’m Gonna Crawl” are slow burn numbers, with the latter having a definite blues edge and the former perhaps pointing towards Plant’s early solo material.

Not as essential as “Physical Graffiti” or “Led Zeppelin IV” but any Led Zeppelin album is worthwhile and better than anything that many bands could ever produce.

5. Motörhead “Overkill” / “Bomber”

Motörhead - Overkill
Motörhead – Overkill

As I did with Saxon’s two releases of 1980 I’m cheating slightly by including two albums by Lemmy and his crew – “Overkill” came out in March ’79 and “Bomber” followed in October.

For may folk the band’s golden era was when the line-up saw Lemmy joined by guitarist “Fast” Eddie Clark and drummer Phil “Philthy Animal” Taylor – the version of the band responsible for 1977’s self-titled album as well as “Overkill”, “Bomber”, “Ace Of Spades” and “Iron Fist”.

“Overkill” contained two singles “No Class” (number 61) and the title track (number 39), whilst the title track from “Bomber”  (number 34) was the sole single from that record. I can remember seeing the band on BBC’s “Top Of The Pops” numerous times in the late 70s / early 80s.

The group’s classic live album “No Sleep ‘Til Hammersmith” contains six tracks from this pair of records in its ten tracks and many of the cuts here remain in the band’s live repertoire to this day including “Bomber”, “Stay Clean”, “Metropolis”, “No Class” and “Overkill”. Simply essential heavy metal.

6. Rainbow “Down To Earth”

Rainbow - Down To Earth
Rainbow – Down To Earth

July 1979 saw the release of “Down To Earth”, the fourth studio album from Ritchie Blackmore’s post-Deep Purple band Rainbow.

Following original singer Ronnie James Dio’s departure at the end of 1978 the album had been recorded by Blackmore, drummer Cozy Powell, keyboardist Don Airey and bassist Roger Glover. Glover wrote lyrics for all the songs and then singer Graham Bonnet was hired and recorded the vocal parts on top of the already near-complete record.

Two singles were released from the album, which saw Blackmore pursuing a more commercial sound. “Since You Been Gone” reached number 6 in the UK and “All Night Long” got to number 5.

Although more poppy than the Dio-fronted albums, there is still plenty of hard rock to be found here, particularly on “Eyes Of The World”, “Love’s No Friend” and “Lost In Hollywood” whilst “Bad Girl” and “Makin’ Love” also have their moments. Blackmore’s playing is sublime in places and his riffs as instant as ever and with brilliant rhythm work from Powell and Glover and Bonnet’s distinctive voice on top this is a great hard rock album.

7. Sky “Sky”

Sky - Sky
Sky – Sky

I have my parents to thank for this entry, the second all-instrumental one to make this list. They had this record in their collection, and I think one of two others from Sky, and I can remember listening to this at home quite often.

A so-called supergroup, Sky were formed by classical guitarist John Williams, bassist Herbie Flowers, drummer / percussionist Tristan Fry, guitarist Kevin Peek and keyboardist Francis Monkman – all of whom had extensive experience in session work as well as having been members of various bands.

A progressive rock band in nature, the group’s debut album “Sky” features a mixture of styles featuring electric and acoustic instrumentation. The first side of the record contained five short numbers (all under four minutes) including two classical adaptations, but it is side two where the magic is to be found.

Written by Monkman, “Where Opposites Meet” is a five-part suite that I never get tired of hearing and love just as much today as when I first heard it. Absolutely superb!

8. Status Quo “Whatever You Want”

Status Quo - Whatever You Want
Status Quo – Whatever You Want

Another album that hit the shelves in the latter part of 1979, in this case October, “Whatever You Want” was Status Quo’s twelfth studio album and produced two top twenty singles in the UK. The title track “Whatever You Want” made number 4 and “Living On An Island” got to number 16.

One of my favourite Status Quo albums, this has some truly great songs alongside the hits. These include “Shady Lady”, “Your Smiling Face”, “Breaking Away” and the brilliant one-two of “Come Rock With Me” which segues beautifully into “Rockin’ On”. It was such a thrill for me when “Come Rock With Me” appeared in the band’s live set for a while!

The album was retitled “Now Hear This” in 1980 for the American market in an attempt to achieve some success there with a remixed and differently sequenced record. That version is very good but the UK original, with its classic album cover, is hard to beat.

Francis Rossi and Rick Parfitt’s guitars mesh perfectly on their trademark boogie crunch, Rossi pulls off some great solos, the rhythm section of Alan Lancaster and John Coghlan are right on the money and keyboardist Andy Bown’s contributions are important too. Most importantly, though, there is not one duff track here – ten superb Status Quo tracks.

9. Thin Lizzy “Black Rose : A Rock Legend”

Thin Lizzy - Black Rose : A Rock Legend
Thin Lizzy – Black Rose : A Rock Legend

Coming the year after the release of the band’s seminal live album “Live And Dangerous”, this was Thin Lizzy’s ninth studio album.

With guitarist Gary Moore staying with the band long enough to make a full album – having had stints in the band in 1974 and 1977, the line-up was completed by vocalist / bassist Phil Lynott, guitarist Scott Gorham and drummer Brian Downey.

The record produced three hit singles in the UK – “Waiting For An Alibi” (number 9), “Do Anything You Want To” (number 14) and “Sarah” (number 24). Of the rest of the album, the best tracks are “Got To Give It Up”, “S & M” and the four-part celtic epic “Róisín Dubh (Black Rose) : A Rock Legend” which is one of the highlights of the band’s entire catalogue.

10. Whitesnake “Lovehunter”

Whitesnake - Lovehunter
Whitesnake – Lovehunter

“Lovehunter”, another October ’79 release, was the second album from former Deep Purple singer David Coverdale’s band Whitesnake.

Recorded at Clearwell Castle here in the Forest of Dean, the album spawned one single, the lead track “Long Way From Home”, the video for which featured drummer Ian Paice, who had joined the band after the album was recorded, along with Coverdale, Jon Lord, Micky Moody, Bernie Marsden and Neil Murray. This incarnation of the band would only last until late 1981 but produced a further three excellent studio records.

The album cover, designed by Cyprus-born fantasy artist Chris Achilleos, attracted some controversy for obvious reasons, but is really a fairly accurate representation of Coverdale’s lyrical direction in tracks such as “Lovehunter”, “Rock ‘N’ Roll Women”, “Mean Business” and “Medicine Man”.

Musically, this album is very much in the bluesy hard rock era of the band, with some wonderful guitar interplay between Moody and Marsden adding colour to the muscular rhythm section, all topped off by Coverdale’s fantastic voice.

That, then, is my favourite ten albums from 1979. Some of the albums that narrowly missed out on making it onto this list include southern rock band Blackfoot’s “Strikes”, the Police’s “Regatta De Blanc”, Scorpions’ “Lovedrive” and Cliff Richard’s “Rock ‘N’ Roll Juvenile”.

In the wider world in 1979 Margaret Thatcher replaced Labour leader James Callaghan as British Prime Minister whilst President of the USA was Jimmy Carter. Football-wise, Liverpool won the old First Division with Arsenal beating Manchester United for the FA Cup. In cinemas top film releases of the year included “The Amityville Horror”, “Rocky II” and the fantastic “Apocalypse Now”.

OK, that’s it… look out for 1978 coming up soon…

1988 – My Top Ten Albums Of The Year

Following on from my recent post on my top ten records from 1986 I am now reaching the final stages of that particular decade. Having covered 1980 all the way through to 1987 I’m left with just 1988 and 1989 to look back at.

So, let’s recap on my personal favourite ten albums of 1988…

  1. All About Eve “All About Eve”
All About Eve - All About Eve
All About Eve – All About Eve

The debut album from English gothic folk rock band All About Eve, this self-titled release would also prove to be the band’s most commercially successful.

Five of the album’s tracks were released as singles, all but one of which reached the UK top forty. These were “In The Clouds” (number 47), “Wild Hearted Woman” (33), “Every Angel” (30), “Martha’s Harbour” (10) and “What Kind Of Fool” (29).

My own personal favourite tracks were “Never Promise (Anyone Forever)”, “She Moves Through The Fair”, “Flowers In Our Hair” and the beautifully delicate “Apple Tree Man”.

Incidentally, during a period of unemployment after being made redundant a dozen or so years ago I actually answered an ad from the band when they were looking for a drummer, one of the criteria being that applicants should be unemployed. On the minus side I didn’t have a drum kit at the time and hadn’t played for a few years but, hey, it’s the closest I ever came to my early dream of rock stardom!

2. Bon Jovi “New Jersey”

Bon Jovi - New Jersey
Bon Jovi – New Jersey

Following up on the massive success of “Slippery When Wet” (1986) must have been a daunting task, but Bon Jovi were clearly intent of doing just that, with a double album originally planned until the record label rejected that idea.

When the single disc record did see the light of day, again utilising the songwriting talents of Desmond Child on a number of tracks, it was to become more successful, chart-wise, in the UK than “Slippery When Wet” had been and produced more hit singles too.

“Bad Medicine”, “Born To Be My Baby”, “I’ll Be There For You” and “Lay Your Hands On Me” all reached the top thirty, with final single “Living In Sin” making number 35.

The record had a bluesier edge to some tracks, and there is a more diverse range of songs as shown on tracks such as “Blood On Blood”, “Love For Sale” and one of my own favourites “Homebound Train”. The hits from “Slippery When Wet” may be more well-known but as a complete album I believe that “New Jersey” is the better of the two.

3. Dare “Out Of The Silence”

Dare - Out Of The Silence
Dare – Out Of The Silence

When Thin Lizzy split after their farewell tour in 1983 many wouldn’t have thought that keyboardist Darren Wharton would go on to achieve success fronting a band of his own. However, Wharton formed the melodic rock band Dare in the mid-80s and their debut album “Out Of The Silence” hit the shelves in 1988.

The album was heavy on anthemic tunes, such as “Under The Sun”, “Return The Heart” and “King Of Spades”, the latter a tribute to the late Thin Lizzy leader Phil Lynott. There were also four singles in “Abandon”, “Heartbreaker”, “Nothing Is Stronger Than Love” and the sublime “The Raindance”.

I saw the band supporting Swedish rock band Europe on their UK tour in 1989 and thought they could be set for big things, but record sales tailed off and the group were dropped by their label after their second album. The band are still a going concern with a gentler, more celtic sound, and still producing quality music but “Out Of The Silence” remains a classic debut.

4. Iron Maiden “Seventh Son Of A Seventh Son”

Iron Maiden - Seventh Son Of A Seventh Son
Iron Maiden – Seventh Son Of A Seventh Son

The seventh studio album from Iron Maiden was the last truly great album during vocalist Bruce Dickinson’s first tenure with the band.

A concept album of sorts the group’s sound took on a slightly more progressive element (which has really taken hold since Dickinson’s return for “Brave New World”), the album’s title was both a reference to the fact that it was their seventh record and also to the folklore idea of the seventh son of a seventh son having special powers.

Four singles came from the album – “Can I Play With Madness” (the video for which was filmed at Chepstow Castle), “The Evil That Men Do” and live versions of “The Clairvoyant” and “Infinite Dreams”.

My own favourite number on the record is “Seventh Son Of A Seventh Son” itself, a near ten minute epic with time signature changes and plenty of texture. Superb.

5. Lita Ford “Lita”

Lita Ford - Lita
Lita Ford – Lita

Former lead guitarist with all-girl rock band The Runaways from 1975-1979, Lita Ford launched a solo career in 1983 with “Out For Blood” with a far more heavy metal orientated image.

Success finally came with her third album “Lita” and it’s four singles “Kiss Me Deadly”, “Back To The Cave”, “Falling In And Out Of Love” and the duet with Ozzy Osbourne “Close My Eyes Forever”.

Lita’s image certainly wouldn’t have harmed sales, particularly to young men (as I was at the time), and I fondly recall seeing her support Bon Jovi that year.

However, at the end of the day the record is a great commercial hard rock record with some really catchy songs and earns its place on this list on that basis!

6. Magnum “Wings Of Heaven”

Magnum - Wings Of Heaven
Magnum – Wings Of Heaven

Magnum were a band that had been treading the boards for quite a while by the time that their seventh album “Wings Of Heaven” came out in the summer of 1988, having been formed around 1972.

They had achieved some chart success previously but this would prove to be their most successful album, reaching number 5 in the UK. The record also produced three hit singles – “Days Of No Trust”, “Start Talking Love” and “It Must Have Been Love”.

All tracks were written by guitarist Tony Clarkin, who continues to pen excellent compositions to this day, and included in those on this album are my favourites “Wild Swan”, “Pray For The Day” and the anti-war epic “Don’t Wake The Lion (Too Old To Die Young)”. An excellent melodic rock album from start to finish.

7. Queensrÿche “Operation : Mindcrime”

Queensrÿche - Operation : Mindcrime
Queensrÿche – Operation : Mindcrime

This is the second concert album on this list, which may well say something about my fondness for more complex music over simple pop tunes. Even though it’s 1990 successor “Empire” would achieve greater chart and sales success, “Operation : Mindcrime” is probably the most celebrated album in American progressive metal band Queensrÿche’s catalogue, and even spawned a sequel in 2006’s “Operation : Mindcrime II”.

The record tells the story of Nikki, a recovering drug addict, who recalls how he was drawn into a revolutionary group, headed by Dr. X, and the events that followed. It was a big success for the band, both with fans and critics.

Four singles were released to promote the album – “Revolution Calling”, “Breaking The Silence”, “Eyes Of A Stranger” and “I Don’t Believe In Love”, and tracks like “Suite Sister Mary” and “Operation : Mindcrime” also help to make this such a strong record.

Queensrÿche may have become something of a farcical soap opera in recent years with claim and counter-claim between now ex-singer Geoff Tate and his former bandmates, but “Operation : Mindcrime” remains a high point in progressive metal.

8. Romeo’s Daughter “Romeo’s Daughter”

Romeo's Daughter - Romeo's Daughter
Romeo’s Daughter – Romeo’s Daughter

Romeo’s Daughter were managed by the then-wife of producer Robert John “Mutt” Lange who was apparently so impressed with their songs that he agreed to produce this, their self-titled debut album.

I can remember at the time being a tad dismissive of the group, perceiving them to be a female-fronted answer to the previous years’s massively successful “Hysteria” album by Def Leppard, which Lange also produced, and certainly the similarities are there to be heard.

In retrospect, although the production sheen and guitar / drum sounds are reminiscent of the Def Leppard record, that cannot detract from the fact that Romeo’s Daughter did have some great songs and, in Leigh Matty, a really good singer.

Three excellent singles came from the album. “Don’t Break My Heart”, “I Cry Myself To Sleep At Night” and “Heaven In The Back Seat” (which also featured on the soundtrack to the movie “A Nightmare On Elm Street 5”).

The album was further boosted by tracks such as “Wild Child” (covered by Heart in 1990), “Velvet Tongue” and “I Like What I See”. An often overlooked classic of the genre.

9. Status Quo “Ain’t Complaining”

Status Quo - Ain't Complaining
Status Quo – Ain’t Complaining

“Ain’t Complaining” was studio album number eighteen from legendary British rock band Status Quo, and the most typically 80s sounding release in their history, taking them even further from their 70s heads-down no-nonsense boogie sound than 1986’s “In The Army Now”.

Although it was the group’s first album since 1971 not to make the UK top ten, reaching only number twelve, it nonetheless produced three hit singles. “Who Gets The Love” hit number 34, “Ain’t Complaining” made number 19 and “Burning Bridges” got all the way to number 5.

My favourite, easily, of the three albums released by the reformed Status Quo during the second half of the 80s, this record has some superb pop/rock material with tracks like “Everytime I Think Of You”, “Cream Of The Crop” and “One For The Money”.

Sure the album sounds very much of its time, but there are some great songs and superb melodies to be found here and it remains one of my favourite Status Quo albums.

10. Transvision Vamp “Pop Art”

Transvision Vamp - Pop Art
Transvision Vamp – Pop Art

Transvision Vamp’s “Pop Art” is the fourth debut album to make this year’s top ten, suggesting that it was a good year to find new bands, even if none of them have gone on the achieve major success.

Formed in 1986 by guitarist / songwriter Nick Sayer and singer / focal point Wendy James, the band had a pop/punk sound and aesthetic and, for a while, looked like they could be the next big thing. However, despite two top five albums and ten top fifty singles, it was all over by 1991.

While they were around, though, they were great. Four tracks from “Pop Art” were released as singles – “Revolution Baby” (twice, numbers 77 and 30), “Tell That Girl To Shut Up” (45), “Sister Moon” (41) and the brilliant “I Want Your Love” (5), and the rest of the album isn’t bad either.

Other notables from 1988 – Margaret Thatcher was in her third term as the Prime Minister of the UK whilst Ronald Reagan was nearing the end of his second term as President of the USA. In football Liverpool won the old First Division back from Everton, and the FA Cup went to Wimbledon. In cinemas, top films released included “Rain Man”, “Who Framed Roger Rabbit” and “Twins”.

So that’s nearly all of the eighties covered, next up will be 1989…

1986 – My Top Ten Albums Of The Year

As promised a week or so ago, when I looked at my favourite albums of 1980, I’m now going to look at those from 1986. There was a lot of great music released in ’86 which meant that it wasn’t easy to narrow down my list to just ten records and a number of excellent ones slipped through the net, so honourable mention must be made of Black Sabbath “Seventh Star”, Bruce Hornsby & The Range “The Way It Is”, Europe “The Final Countdown”, Huey Lewis & The News “Fore!”, Judas Priest “Turbo”, Paul Simon “Graceland”, Peter Gabriel “So”, Slayer “Reign In Blood”, Toto “Fahrenheit” and Van Halen “5150” – another ten albums that could have made my list, were it not for the fact that the following ten are the ten that did make it to my personal top ten for the year…

  1. Bon Jovi “Slippery When Wet”
Bon Jovi - Slippery When Wet
Bon Jovi – Slippery When Wet

US rock giants Bon Jovi were only moderately successful until their third album came along. “Slippery When Wet” broke the band into the big time. The bulk of the songs were written by Jon Bon Jovi and Richie Sambora, with additional input from songwriter Desmond Child on four tracks, including the singles “You Give Love A Bad Name” and “Livin’ On A Prayer”.

In addition to these, two further singles were issued in the UK. “Wanted Dead Or Alive”, which features one of my all-time favourite guitar solos, and the ballad “Never Say Goodbye”.

On top of those, there are some great hard rock tracks on this record including “Let It Rock”, “Raise Your Hands” and the rather excellent (if non-PC) “Social Disease”. Rightly regarded as a highpoint in Bon Jovi’s career, this is a superb album from start to finish.

2. Genesis “Invisible Touch”

Genesis - Invisible Touch
Genesis – Invisible Touch

The follow-up to the group’s self-titled album from 1983, “Invisible Touch” hit the streets in the summer of ’86 and went on to become one of their most successful albums ever, achieving the number one spot in the UK and number three (their highest album chart position) in the US.

To promote the album five of the record’s eight tracks were released as singles – the title track, “Throwing It All Away”, “Land Of Confusion” (the video for which featured puppets from the then popular “Spitting Image” TV show), “In Too Deep” and an edited version of “Tonight, Tonight, Tonight”.

Of the remaining three tracks, “Domino” was a ten minute, two-part, epic, “The Brazilian” a great instrumental and “Anything She Does” the only track not performed by the band on their subsequent world tour. Despite not being released as a single there was a video made for the latter track which featured Page 3 model Maria Whittaker as well as Phil Collins’ fabulous mullet!

Musically this was the commercial side of Genesis at their best, and even though it sounds very much of its time with synth bass and electronic drums very much evident. Nonetheless, this is a classic record and one that I still play often.

3. Iron Maiden “Somewhere In Time”

Iron Maiden - Somewhere In Time
Iron Maiden – Somewhere In Time

This was something of a divisive album amongst fans of Iron Maiden when it was released in September of 1986. This was because of a marked change in sound which incorporates synth guitar and bass.

Two tracks were released as singles, both written by guitarist Adrian Smith, “Wasted Years” and “Stranger In A Strange Land”.

In addition to these, there are some standout tracks on this record including “Heaven Can Wait”, “Caught Somewhere In Time” and the superbly complex epic number “Alexander The Great”. Throughout the album the material is very good and the performances from all band members are typically on the money.

“Somewhere In Time” may not be a universally loved Iron Maiden album, but in my view it is a very underrated one, and actually one of the best from the first period with Bruce Dickinson as lead vocalist.

4. Kim Wilde “Another Step”

Kim Wilde - Another Step
Kim Wilde – Another Step

The first pop album on this list. I’d been vaguely aware of some of Kim Wilde’s early hits, like “Kids In America”, but it was her 1983 hit “Love Blonde” and its cool swagger that made me sit up and take notice.

One of my crushes of the era, Wilde really hit her stride in terms of commercial success and great catchy pop tunes with her late 80s albums – “Another Step” and the following “Close” from 1988.

Three singles came from this record. A cover of The Supremes’ “You Keep Me Hangin’ On”, “Another Step (Closer To You)” and “Say You Really Want Me”. The sound of this album was more rocky than her previous material, though still contains plenty of keyboards and 80s sounding drums etc.

I would personally have changed the running order, as the uptempo songs all come first with the latter part being given over to the more balladic numbers, and I think it would have perhaps flowed better if the songs had been mixed up a bit.

Despite that, and the limitations of Wilde’s voice – which actually add a charming vulnerability to much of the material – this is still, to my mind, a great 80s pop album.

5. Metallica “Master Of Puppets”

Metallica - Master Of Puppets
Metallica – Master Of Puppets

Without doubt, this is the heaviest record to make this list. Metallica’s third studio album, “Master Of Puppets” was their first release on a major label.

A real step up from “Ride The Lightning”, this album was to see the band begin to make it big. Although not a commercial success in the same league as 1991’s self-titled album (also known as “The Black Album”), this particular record has been very influential in the decades since it’s release.

Just one single was released to promote the album, “Master Of Puppets” itself, which failed to chart either in the UK or the US.

Regardless of chart positions etc., this album has rightly become regarded as one of the highlights of Metallica’s recording career because it is a splendidly cohesive record. The performances are tight and passionate, the songs classics of the genre and the production noticeably better than on their previous recordings.

The last record to feature bassist Cliff Burton, who was killed in a tour bus crash just six months after it’s release, there are a number of stone cold classic Metallica tracks present, including “Battery”, “Master Of Puppets”, “Disposable Heroes”, “Orion” and “Leper Messiah”.

6. Nik Kershaw “Radio Musicola”

Nik Kershaw - Radio Musicola
Nik Kershaw – Radio Musicola

Nik Kershaw’s first two albums were released within eleven months in 1984. There followed a gap of almost two years until third album “Radio Musicola” came out, which will have no doubt had an effect on its chart success given how fast things can change in the world of music, especially pop music.

Four singles were released. “When A Heart Beats” (which was bizarrely not included on the vinyl version of the album) reached number 27, whilst “Nobody Knows” and the title track narrowly missed top forty positions. Fourth single “James Cagney” failed to chart however.

There were some superb Kershaw compositions contained within the album. Not just the singles, but tracks like “Don’t Let Me Out Of My Cage” and “What The Papers Say” were further examples of his knack of writing a great, catchy and memorable melody.

7. Pallas “The Wedge”

Pallas - The Wedge
Pallas – The Wedge

Scottish progressive rock band Pallas had achieved some cult success with their first two releases “Arrive Alive” (1981) and “The Sentinel” (1984) and then lost their original singer.

Replacement vocalist Alan Reed’s arrival coincided with a streamlining of the group’s sound. Whilst still firmly rooted in progressive rock, there was more focus on melodies and shorter, more accessible songs. I hadn’t heard Pallas prior to “The Wedge”, however, and my introduction to the band was when they had supported rock legends UFO in November 1985.

Not as well known as the work by fellow progressive rock band Marillion in the mid 80s, this album is a cracker. A couple of ballads are present, of which the brilliantly evocative “Just A Memory” is by far the best, but it’s the rockier and proggier numbers that work best for me, like “The Executioner” and, “Throwing Stones At The Wind”.

Best of all is the eight minute epic “Rat Racing”, lots of time changes etc. The use of the Emulator sampling keyboard kind of dates the album, I suppose, but I still enjoy listening to this record as much now as I did when it first came out. An unheralded progressive rock classic.

8. Queen “A Kind Of Magic”

Queen - A Kind Of Magic
Queen – A Kind Of Magic

Another band that had progressive tendencies. At least, they did in their mid 70s work. By the mid 80s, however, the band really were firmly into commercial rock / pop territory.

The last Queen album to be promoted with a world tour, which I was fortunate enough to attend at Knebworth Park in August ’86, “A Kind Of Magic” was an unofficial soundtrack to the film “Highlander” (also released in 1986) with six of the record’s nine songs being featured in the film, albeit in different versions.

One of the band’s most successful albums, “A Kind Of Magic” saw an astonishing seven of it’s nine tracks released as singles. Four charted in the UK – “One Vision” (number 7), “A Kind Of Magic” (number 3), “Friends Will Be Friends” (number 14) and “Who Wants To Live Forever” (number 14) – whilst the remaining three, “Princes Of The Universe”, “Pain Is So Close To Pleasure” and “One Year Of Love” failed to do so.

Not the best Queen album, in truth, with the four hit singles representing the very best of the material on offer. The record as a whole suffers from a lack of consistency, perhaps as a result of much of it being written for the film. That said, it’s head and shoulders above the “Flash Gordon” album and does contain two of the very best Queen singles in “A Kind Of Magic” and “One Vision”.

9. Status Quo “In The Army Now”

Status Quo - In The Army Now
Status Quo – In The Army Now

This was the album that marked the start of the second real phase of Status Quo’s recording career. With founding bassist Alan Lancaster having fought and lost to guitarists Francis Rossi and Rick Parfitt over ownership of the band’s name, Rossi and Parfitt reconvened with longterm keyboardist Andrew Bown and a new rhythm section – bassist John “Rhino” Edwards and drummer Jeff Rich to record “In The Army Now”.

The album was the band’s most successful for a while, and produced four UK top twenty hit singles – “Rollin’ Home”, “Red Sky”, “In The Army Now” and “Dreamin'”.

Alongside those numbers there are some really good album tracks like “Save Me”, “End Of The Line”, the country flavoured “Invitation” and my favourite “Overdose”.

Granted it all sounds a little dated now, with prominent 80s keyboards, but this is another album that still gets regular airings.

10. Tesla “Mechanical Resonance”

Tesla - Mechanical Resonance
Tesla – Mechanical Resonance

I discovered US hard rock band Tesla when they supported Def Leppard on the first UK leg of their mammoth world “Hysteria” tour in 1987, but their debut album “Mechanical Resonance” was released in December ’86, so it belongs on that year’s list.

Two tracks saw the light of day as singles, the brilliant “Modern Day Cowboy” and “Little Suzi”.

This is one of those rare albums, and a debut one at that, which contains absolutely no filler. Jeff Keith sings brilliantly throughout, Frank Hannon and Tommy Skeoch tear out some stonking great guitar riffs and facemelting solos, with bassist Brian Wheat and drummer Troy Luccketta underpinning the whole thing with solidity and power.

Personal highlights include “Cumin’ Atcha Live”, “Gettin’ Better”, “We’re No Good Together”, “Love Me” and “Cover Queen”, but in truth this is one of the best hard rock albums I’ve ever heard and is essential listening from beginning to end. Classic stuff.

1986 was also the year that I passed by driving test, so a lot of this music would have made it onto cassettes and been played on my car stereo, which could go some way to explaining the nostalgic appeal of lots of the music from this year and 1987.

Elsewhere in 1986 Margaret Thatcher was in her second term as the Prime Minister in the UK whilst Ronald Reagan was also in his second term, as President of the USA. In football Liverpool won the old First Division and the FA Cup, securing the Double. Cinema-wise, top films released included “Top Gun”, “Platoon” and “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off”.

The next eighties year to be looked at will be 1988…